State Dept. Doesn't Need Weapons Experts?

Arms-control treaties, nuclear proliferation, weapons of mass destruction -- in dealing with these issues, does the State Department need career professionals who know what they're talking about? Apparently not, reports Knight Ridder.

The reorganization of the department's arms control and international security bureaus was intended to help it better deal with 21st-century threats. Instead, it's thrown the agency into turmoil and produced an exodus of experts with decades of experience in nuclear arms, chemical weapons and related matters, according to 11 current and former officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder. The reorganization was conducted largely in secret by a panel of four political appointees. A career expert was allowed to join the group only after most decisions had been made.

Critics call it a "political vendetta," and there's some substance to the charge:

Thomas Lehrman, a political appointee who heads the new office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, advertised outside the State Department to fill jobs in his office. In an e-mail to universities and research centers, a copy of which was obtained by Knight Ridder, he listed loyalty to Bush and Rice's priorities as a qualification. Lehrman reportedly recalled the e-mail after it was pointed out that such loyalty tests are improper.

It's an important story, another KR scoop and another reason underscoring the significance of the future of the chain. Latest word from Reuters, via Editor & Publisher, is that the Gannett Co. may be working with MediaNews Group Inc. and its partners on a deal.